Oil and Gas – A history of Innovation?


Oil and Gas – A history of Innovation?

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less” … Marie Curie, Nobel prize 

Marie Curie was the first female to win a Noble Prize, which was in Physics then went on to win another Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Curie, shared a view that is relevant for the current situation in the oil and gas industry. While many companies struggle and others shift focus, all realities indicate we are experiencing an unparalleled digital transformation in oil and gas, induced by external and internal forces. It shocks me to read publications about this not being an innovate industry, however, much that is published comes from authors who are outside of the industry (i.e. financial, entertainment, etc.). It is clear that such misguided information stems from the lack of background in oil and gas.

Perhaps the fallacious views are due to oil and gas experiencing a slower adoption rate of new technologies. Traditionally oil and gas has had significantly high cash flow generating operations; therefore, no urgency existed to increase efficiencies and decrease the cost of operations. To understand the present and furthermore the future in oil and gas industry, we need to understand where the industry is coming from.

To understand my views, perhaps it is best to explain my background. I am a petroleum engineer/geoscientist trained in several upstream domains with a passion for data science and automation. I am fortunate to work with a world-class team of digital scientists and engineers. We have a vision for the industry, understand everyone is wondering what is next?

Converse to much of what is published,  the oil and gas industry is one of the most innovative industries in the world. Understanding “innovation” and its context is crucial.  A basic explanation of various types of innovation include: incremental innovation, disruptive innovation, and radical innovation. Oil and gas, as an industry, has lead incremental innovation over decades.

Let’s look at some well-known innovation transfers from oil and gas to other industries:

1.      Reservoir models have been a fixture of the modern oil and gas sector for more than a generation. A study in Norway aims to evaluate if the technology can be carried over into the medical field to improve how doctors interpret magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which would work to save lives. The idea is based on the similarities between the human brain and oil reservoirs. Because both are dual-porosity media, researchers think the industry’s reservoir models could lead to a breakthrough.

2.      Transfers to the space exploration: Before remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) were used for subsea work, the oil and gas industry utilized humans, which produced a greater risk diving below water to install or fix subsea systems. One of the pioneers of oilfield diving is Oceaneering International which lent its unique expertise to NASA’s manned space program for more than 35 years. The collaboration started as a way for NASA to borrow learnings from pressurized diving suits to create its spacesuits for the shuttle program.

3.      Regarding renewables and CO2 capture, the geothermal sector has long relied on oilfield systems that span the full value chain: drilling, completions, and production. But for the hottest wells, and therefore most potentially productive, the geothermal sector has relied on some of this industry’s most advanced high-pressure/high-temperature systems. Another area of interest in the sustainable sector is CO2 capture, the technical expertise of which was born within the oil and gas industry. CO2 capture is mostly used for enhanced oil recovery projects, but that could change as the global enterprise becomes more aggressive on efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

And much more…

So, when I read about oil and gas not being an innovate industry, I ask those authors to do the research and understand that incremental innovation has shaped not only the oil and gas industry, but subsequently others as well.   A past of innovation, a present in finance and the future of disruptive technologies……..

By Camilo Mejia for Enovate Upstream